Finding itself on the brink of a possible return to the College Cup raises an interesting question for the Creighton soccer team.
The Bluejays need to defeat Connecticut on Sunday to return to the final four. The Creighton team that made it last season was loaded with veterans. The Bluejays had an All-American to lead the attack and another in goal to stymie the opposition. They earned their ticket to the final four by winning three games at home.
The Bluejays opened this season with eight new starters. They hit a speed bump in September, losing three of four games. To make it back to the College Cup, they would have to win twice on the road in two of the toughest venues in college soccer.
If they do make it back to Birmingham, Ala., would that make this season’s accomplishments greater than last year’s?
“That’s a good question,” Creighton senior Brent Kallman said. “I think it would be the same accomplishment, although our road to the College Cup would have been a little more difficult.
“To me, it might be a little more special because it is my senior year. But last year was fantastic, and we’re really enjoying the run we’re on right now.”
Creighton’s other senior starters — Andrew Ribeiro and Jose Gomez — were split in trying to weigh the value of the two accomplishments.
Gomez said he’s not surprised that Creighton is in this position, but he definitely appreciates the greater degree of difficulty to this year’s path.
“Everyone was saying this was going to be a rebuild for our team since we had lost so many starters,” Gomez said. “It’s been tough. No one predicted that we’d make it this far, so I think it would be a bigger accomplishment if we make it back.”
Ribeiro said Creighton’s status as an elite program brings with it expectations that transcend adjusting to annual personnel losses.
“Getting there is what we should always want to do and what we should do,” Ribeiro said. “We’re a top-10 program, and we should always be there.
“I’m not saying that we deserve it, but with what we have here, we should never say, ‘This is good enough.’ With what we have, we always want to be in the final game.”
Like Ribeiro, Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich is wired to want his team playing for a championship each season. Like Gomez, Bolowich acknowledges the Bluejays had some added obstacles in their path this season.
“I hate to compare teams, but we did have so many new players coming in,” Bolowich said. “This team has a different dynamic. We play slightly different than last year.”
By the time the Bluejays reached the NCAA tournament last season, they were in a position where anything short of a trip to Birmingham might have been viewed as a disappointment.
Creighton’s only losses before the tournament came on the road by 1-0 scores. The Bluejays opened tournament play knowing they would be playing in the friendly confines of Morrison Stadium as long as they kept winning.
“I would have still considered it a successful season if we hadn’t made it,” Bolowich said. “Getting to the College Cup is hard. You have 203 teams, and only four make it to the semifinals and final. It’s a tremendous accomplishment.
“But after we played the Maryland game (a 1-0 loss in late September), we were just cruising. We had a set lineup, a set rotation. This took much longer this year with all the new players we had.”
Bolowich spent the first month of this season experimenting with lineups and rotations. He finally settled on a core group after the Bluejays opened Missouri Valley Conference play at Drake with a scoreless tie.
Prior to that, Creighton had lost to Old Dominion, Saint Louis and Tulsa.
in the span of four games, Creighton gave up eight of the 19 goals it’s allowed all season.
The two games in the stretch that ate at Bolowich were the home loss to Saint Louis and the tie with Drake.
“We didn’t play up to our potential,” he said. “At that point, our backs were to the wall. We didn’t win our first conference game, so we knew we had to win the rest of our games if we wanted to win the conference.
“And with a record of 5-3-2 at that point, our season was a little on the brink. If we had lost two or three more times, the playoff picture could have been a lot different.”
It’s now been more than two months since the Bluejays have lost. They followed up the Drake tie with 12 straight wins and will take a 13-match unbeaten streak into Sunday’s noon showdown with Connecticut in Storrs, Conn.
“I think we’ve reached the point where we know we can compete with anybody,” Kallman said. “We’re taking a lot of confidence into this match.”
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